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Citation Information

Type Thesis or Dissertation - Doctor of Philosophy
Title The persistence of poverty in post apartheid South Africa assets livelihoods and differentiation in Kwazulu-Natal,1993-2004
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2008
The situation in South Africa presents unique challenges to achieving sustained poverty
reduction. Although it is an upper-middle-income country with a per capita income
similar to that of Botswana, Brazil or Malaysia, a significant proportion of South African
households have remained poor despite a plethora of government policies that target the
less resourced. While estimates vary, over 22.9 million South Africans are categorised as
being poor, with almost 2.5 million people suffering from malnutrition. Most analysts
now agree that while poverty increased during the 1990s, some progress has been made
in reducing both the incidence and depth of poverty after 2000.
This thesis argues that the economic and social dynamics set in motion by apartheid that
produced this situation, may also have generated a low-level equilibrium trap from which
some the poor in South Africa will find it difficult to escape. The thesis suggests that the
explanation for this 'poverty trap' lies in what Sen has termed the exchange entitlement
mapping that poor households face when attempting to use their assets/endowments. In
other words, the processes that underpin the accumulation of assets, the opportunities to
use these assets, and the returns obtained are structurally prejudiced against the poor.
The implication is that the current experience of poverty leads to its reproduction and to a
structurally persistent poverty.
The central research question of this thesis is then: "Did the extent, distribution and
experience of poverty of the apartheid era persist in the immediate post-apartheid South
Africa despite the efforts of government to foster pro-poor reforms?" The central policy
concern is that if asset accumulation failure underpins persistent poverty, policies for
those who are structurally poor should be differentiated from that which is directed at
those who are transitorily poor. As an example, the policies of the South African
government concerning the redistribution of agrarian assets (principally land and finance)
may not be sufficient to assist the poor in rural areas, and may only increase intra-rural
The thesis draws on two principal data sources: the South African Participatory Poverty
Assessment completed in 1997, and the KwaZulu-Natal Income Dynamics Study (KIDS)
which contains panel data collected from the same households in 1993, 1998 and 2004.
Using these data, the thesis identifies a typology of structural poverty classes. At the
bottom of this typology are those trapped in poverty with an asset base that is inadequate
to meet their immediate needs as well as their ability to accumulate further assets over
time. Other are stochastically poor or non-poor, moving in and out of poverty according
to their good or bad fortune. Finally some have never been poor and have the asset base
to ensure that they remain in this position or indeed improve over time.
The livelihood strategies of households are used to differentiate households according to
their participation in labour markets, farm and non-farm own production and access to
social grants. The livelihood clusters that result are then matched to the poverty classes
in order show differentiation among the households surveyed in KIDS. This allows for
more nuanced policy recommendations that can be tailored to the needs of households
experiencing different forms of poverty.

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Copyright DataFirst, University of Cape Town